Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien wants to fast-track changes to the Fair Deal scheme to assist with the Ukraine refugee crisis.
Mr O’Brien is ramping up pressure on his colleague Minister for Older People Mary Butler to expedite legislation allowing nursing home residents to keep rental income from renting their family home.
The minister is asking that the legislative changes to the State’s nursing home scheme be introduced as soon as possible to increase housing stock because up to 200,000 refugees could arrive in Ireland due to the war in Ukraine.
“There are about 8,000 homes vacant as a result of a person being in long-term care and if a fraction of them came back into the market it would of course help,” a Department of Housing source said.
Refugees will not be asked to rent homes but increasing housing stock urgently will assist the Government in seeking to house tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine while also addressing the on-going housing crisis.
A spokesperson for Ms Butler said she was “working on amending the rules of the Fair Deal scheme to allow nursing home residents to rent out their principle private residence and have that income exempt from contributions to the cost of care, [they] are at an advanced stage”.
However, he said it was “not necessary to expedite this amendment” in order for nursing home residents to volunteer the use of their home to Ukrainian refugees as “no income would be accrued by such a move”.
The internal Government row comes as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil Ireland can expect 40,000 Ukrainian refugees to have entered the country by the end of April – which amounts to an almost 1pc population increase in just a few weeks.
Mr Varadkar said this influx of people posed the biggest humanitarian aid challenge the State had ever faced and it would affect every facet of Irish life.
He said the impact would be felt in health, welfare and housing spending – and even affect things such as efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
He said the Government had to concede it would not be possible to provide “self-catering, own-door accommodation” to everybody who sought refuge here from Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said around 68,000 refugees were expected to arrive in Ireland during the crisis but this could increase further in the coming weeks.
He said the child and family agency Tusla was providing accommodation for 22 unaccompanied minors who were seeking refuge in Ireland after fleeing Ukraine.
He said a “small but growing number of unaccompanied minors” were now arriving in Ireland.
He said 2,000 hotel rooms were being used to provide accommodation while local authorities had identified around 500 properties that could be used to house refugees.
This would include repurposing buildings which can be made habitable, he said.
Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys outlined her plans to change legislation to ensure older people who want to house a refugee do not see their welfare rates affected.
Ms Humphreys said those who had offered their homes did so on a voluntary basis and were not looking for money from the State at this stage.
The minister said her department would “not be found wanting” when it came to providing welfare supports to refugees from Ukraine.
She said 7,326 people from Ukraine had been given PPS numbers since arriving in Ireland, giving them entitlements to welfare and allowing them to take up employment.